People need help in times of crisis and some companies call local counselors or therapists for employee assistance. Nancy Mott, a parishioner at St. Luke, Knoxville, and a semi-retired licensed therapist, worked with a large company in Pigeon Forge this week to provide counseling to employees who have been affected by the Gatlinburg fire. Some have lost their homes or apartments and all have been affected by the devastation in the Smoky Mountains.
She was called on November 30 as the extent of the devastation was still being determined – and not all of the company’s employees had been accounted for. When she arrived at the office the next day, she learned that four employees’ homes had burned.
Mott was available at the company all day, but said that few people followed through on the offer of assistance. “For many people,” she said “talking with a stranger is difficult and counseling is not a normal part of life for all.” She spoke with a couple people who had lost their apartment to the fire. Mott said one person was emotional but upbeat about her faith. The woman watched the fire from her window, and even before receiving an evacuation notice, decided to leave with her child. She took with her family pictures and her child’s treasured toy. Despite the loss of her apartment and its contents, she felt that nothing important had been lost – just things – and things can be replaced.
Mott said, “Some of us survive tragedy by keeping things as normal as possible. And stern people of the mountains for generations have survived by taking care of each other. Going to work meant they were with their team. Over and over I heard, ‘We’re holding on to each other, putting our arms around each other and holding close.’ But it must be difficult then to go home to the loss.”
Even the loss of a beloved place in nature can have an impact. “These places function as part of our security – our rock, “Mott said. “Even if we live close to the mountains and don’t get there as often as we’d like, we hold them close to us.”
“Everybody is in a cloud of confusion now,” Mott said, but in the aftermath of the fire, she’s heard people saying they know Jesus is with them. And Mott agrees that faith is a critical part of dealing with tragedy. “One thing we can always count on – we know God is always with us – whether people want to say “the Universe,” or “Spirit,” or whatever name they have for God,” Mott said. “And for us Christians, it’s Immanuel – God With Us.”
It can take some time to deal with tragedy and loss, and we can experience unexpected feelings during this time. Mott had important words for all of us in the days ahead, “We need to be kind to each other,” she said.